Measure R: The 2014 Downtown Initiative

  • Simple Majority Required

The Question: Should the City of Berkeley amend the Downtown Area Plan to change permit procedures and establish building heights? Should the City of Berkeley require buildings that are 75 feet or higher to meet higher environmental building standards and other social requirements? Should the City of Berkeley establish a Civic Center Historic District to protect the Post Office, the Old City Hall and other downtown buildings?

What Measure R Would Do: This measure amends provisions of the 2010 Downtown Area Plan, the governing document for downtown Berkeley development. It changes the “Green Pathways” program, which was intended to encourage environmentally friendly development and provide a faster city approval process.

All new buildings would have to meet at least the LEED gold standard, the second highest level of environmental building certification. Buildings higher than 75 feet would have to meet the LEED platinum standard, the highest level of environmental building certification. Additionally, buildings going higher than 75 feet would have to provide specific public benefits for the life of the project, including 20% housing for very low income people and for families and family-size 2-to 3-bedroom units. As in the 2010 Downtown Area Plan, only three buildings could go to 180 feet and two buildings to 120 feet. Developers would pay a 10% fee (reduced from a onetime 30% fee) into a special low income housing fund, because they would instead include more low income units.

Developers’ choosing the Green Pathway would hire 50% Berkeley workers (up from current 30%) and pay the local prevailing wage for construction and other workers.

In general, buildings would have to include more parking spaces for vehicles and bicycles and include parking for disabled and shared vehicles, and vehicle charging. On-site composting and recycling facilities would be required. All buildings, public and private, over 75 feet would include public restrooms for men, women and disabled users.

The application process for the 5 buildings over 75 feet would be changed. The 2014 Measure R would limit applications to one completed application to be considered per year. Now, there is no limit. Current projects in the pipeline would have the opportunity to revise their applications to meet the new Green Pathway requirements. Measure R would not change the fact that only 5 buildings over 75 feet could be built without voter approval for additional buildings.

Projects would go through the usual Landmarks Commission approval process rather than the 2010 Green Pathway pre-approval requirements.

The measure would create a permanent Civic Center Historic District, including the Main Post Office, the high school, the Veterans building, Old City Hall and other buildings. Within this district, new buildings would be limited to 50 feet. Buildings in this district could be used only for libraries, government, museums, parks and playgrounds, public schools, public markets, theaters for live performances, and nonprofit cultural, arts, community service and historical organizations. These uses could extend to the residential housing in the Historic District and include additional parking and other standards.

The Way It Is Now: In November 2010, 64% of Berkeley voters approved the 2010 Measure R, called Berkeley’s Green Vision for the Downtown. It was intended to meet the City’s ambitious climate action goals. It required a new set of building and zoning regulations to ensure environmental and community benefits. In the Downtown Area Plan, adopted in 2010, the Green Pathways provision gave developers the option of providing a higher level of community benefits in exchange for a faster-track approval process; so far, no Green Pathway project has been submitted.

Fiscal Impact: Fiscal impact is uncertain.

Supporters Say:

  • This 2014 Measure R will turn the Downtown Plan from promise to reality—replacing vague language with specific regulations and closing loopholes.
  • Measure R will make major developers contribute community benefits, with higher green standards, housing for very low income families and higher wages for workers.
  • Measure R protects the Post Office and other historic and cultural resources in Berkeley; it preserves the heart of downtown for public uses.
  • Measure R is not anti-growth; it will maximize environmental and community benefits from downtown development.
  • Measure R will increase bicycle and vehicle parking and affordable housing near transit.
  • Measure R restores Landmark Preservation Review; it protects adjacent downtown neighborhoods.

Web site:

Opponents Say:

  • This 2014 Measure R would stop proposed projects and discourage further development; it would cripple the voter-approved 2010 Downtown Area Plan by adding higher green standards and less-flexible design guidelines.
  • The 2010 Measure R was the result of a six-year public process including more than 200 public meetings. It is too soon to change the current Downtown Area Plan rules.
  • This 2014 Measure R would reduce opportunities for new business, school district and city revenues including Housing Trust Fund revenues, which are vital to affordable and special-needs housing.
  • This Measure R would lock complicated zoning regulations into law; provisions that don’t work could be changed only by voters.
  • This Measure R is not needed. The existing Downtown Area Plan is green. It promotes smart growth with denser housing in downtown and along major transit corridors and reduces carbon emissions from vehicles.
  • This Measure R would discourage downtown development through its stringent requirements, according to AECOM, the firm hired by the City to conduct the analysis.

Web site:

The full text of Measure R:

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